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[Interview] Sir Ridley Scott On Technology, Prequels And How ‘Alien: Paradise’ Became ‘Prometheus’

I’ve seen Ridley Scott’s Prometheus twice now and I like it quite a bit. It’s not without its issues, but I think it’s an interesting, inquisitive and intense movie that’s full of questions (if not so many answers).

Myself and a few other journalists sat down with Scott a few days ago in London to talk about the journey of Prometheus to the screen. We also touch on a question a lot of people are asking, “why does the technology in this film look different than in ‘Alien’?” Scott also discussed his original plans for the film (back when it was titled Alien: Paradise).

With ‘Prometheus,’ Scott creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

In theaters June 8, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Guy Pearce, Kate Dickie, Rafe Spall, Logan Marshall-Green, Benedict Wong, Emun Elliott and Patrick Wilson all star.

Head inside to check out the interview.

Ridley enters and sees our tape recorders.

Look at this technology. Jesus Christ. 40 years ago when Kirk said “Beam me up, Scotty” we used to think that was fucking ridiculous, remember? Seriously, that’s been 40 years and then when he says the “disintegration” of his matter into the “reintegration” of his matter in the next space, that right there is light speed. So they touched on light speed. I’ve talked to NASA about this and they’ve said that’s light speed. So “Can you do it?” They said “Yeah. Have you got seven glasses of water?” I go “Not the seven glasses of water trick, please.” There were all scientists in the room and he started to explain to me the relativity and the speed of light. “Can you do it?” “Yeah.” He said the only barrier is “us.” He said, I can mathematically explain how, but we haven’t gotten there with that.

Can you talk about approaching how you wanted the technology to look in this movie? Because it’s unclear but this is a more advanced technology than that of Alien.

Yeah, but I couldn’t help that, because I didn’t know, did I? (Laughs) For all intents and purposes this is very loosely a prequel, very, and then you say “But how did that ship evolve in the first Alien?” Then I would say “Actually he’s one of the group that had gone off and his cargo had gotten out of control,” because he was heading somewhere else and it got out of control and actually he had died in the process and that would be the story there. That ship happened to be a brother to the ship that you see that comes out of the ground at the end [of Prometheus]. They are roughly of the same period give or take a couple hundred years, right? Other than that, there’s no real link except it explains I think who may have had these capabilities, which are dreadful weapons way beyond anything we could possibly conceive, bacteriological drums of sh*t that you can drop on a planet and the planet… Do you know anything about bacteria? If you take a teaspoon and drop it in the biggest reservoir in London, which also scares the sh*t out of me, and amazes me that there are not huge guards around it. That’s the way to do it. You don’t do 9-11, you just get a teaspoon of bacteria, drop it in, and eight days later the water is clean and then suddenly on the eighth day the water goes dense and cloudy, but by then it’s been sent to every home and several million people have drunk it, you’ve got bubonic. It’s that simple. That’s how scary it is, so these evolutions of these guys who have developing galloping DNA, it’s like “How can DNA grow that quickly, sitting in front of me on a table?” The Gulf of Mexico they believe is a huge asteroid [hole]. That was an impact zone, you know that? Yeah, for that big a thing to actually hit our globe, it would have had to adjusted the spin, the axis. That probably created the first massive cataclysmic thing which took away all of the dinosaurs, so that after that you’re left with water, that’s why the Grand Canyon was a sea and it is now a dry valley.

In your Sci-Fi projects (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus) you have been almost obsessed with AI and robots. Why is that fascinating to you?

I don’t know. I think it evolved out of the box in Blade Runner because Roy Batty was an evolved [being]. Ash in Alien had nothing to do with Roy Batty, because Roy Batty is more humanoid, whereas Ash was more metal and Ash’s logic was on every space ship “if I have a space ship worth god knows how much money and I’ve got to have a company man onboard and that company man is going to be a god damn secret.” So that was the Ash thing. Now I’m doing this and I thought it was an interesting acknowledgement, the marvelous idea of Ash, which I think is a pretty good idea. It was a one off for that to be a surprise, that “Ash is a goddamn robot” and we gave all the clues early by having stiff joints and doing his thing. I just wanted to have the same idea that the corporation would have a robot onboard every ship, so that when you are asleep in hyper-sleep for three or four years going at 250,000 knots an hour, you will have guy wandering around like a housekeeper. He’s a housekeeper and he’s got full access to everything. He can look at all of the films. He can go into the library… he can do whatever he wants, and that’s David.

This originally started out as more of a [straight] Alien prequel from what I’ve read or heard. What was the central idea that caused you to extrapolate outward from that and create something that’s more of its own film and has some of its own ideas?

The very simple question was “Who the hell was in that ship? Who is sitting in that seat?” and “Why that cargo?” and “Where was he going?” no one asked the question, so I thought “Duh.” It’s a “duh,” isn’t it? They’re [the other directors in the Alien franchise] all bright guys. Jim [Cameron] and David [Fincher] and the French guy [Jean-Pierre Jeunet], and I thought “Wow, duh.” And I just kind of sat and thought about it for a while and I was busy, so I didn’t really do anything about it and then when they finally put it to bed in Alien Vs. Predator. I thought “You know what? This is a good idea here.” The more I talked about it, I thought “Goddamn.” I was going to call it Alien: Paradise because I thought that had a spooky connotation to the idea, because it concocts our notion and idea of paradise and “what is that?” And paradise to us suggests religion and religion says “God” and then God, who created us, and that’s certainly… you’ve got a scientist who believes in God and there’s lots of scientists who believe flatly in God and even though they may be in quantum physics, they say “I get to a wall and some times wonder “who the hell thought of this one?” and I can’t get through the wall. When I get through the wall more is revealed and I still see another wall, so who is making this sh*t up?”

The creator-creation dynamic is played out many ways in the film. It’s parent-child, god-man, and then man and AI and kind of delving into facing your creator and it doesn’t pan out very well for any of them. Do you think that that’s the fundamental appeal of this kind of myth in the sci-fi realm? It’s that cautionary tale about overreaching your bounds?

Totally. Very good. Yeah, we go too far. Are we living better today, despite all of the problems that exist, than the fifties? Yes, of course we are. Then the 1850’s? No comparison. The 1900’s? No comparison in any way, shape or form. But are we heading towards a much larger problem? Definitely.

This film asks a lot of questions that are not answered…

In the next one…




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